Celery for Exhibition
17th Feb 2000
The days are certainly lengthening now and before long we shall have the evenings to work in the garden as well and that will certainly help matters. Celery for exhibition is usually around this time of year so that I may have some good quality heads for staging from mid August onwards. The variety to choose undoubtedly is Ideal, the one that's been winning at the highest level for many years.
There are however two new varieties that have been bred as hybrids using a re selected form of Ideal as the parent line. These two showed some great promise last year and I'm confident that they will be even better as the top growers get the hang of nurturing it along through the season. One thing to bear in mind with the new strain is that the vigour in the F1 hybrid plants is noticeable from the moment they start into growth and because of this vigour it's better to delay the sowing slightly as it will easily catch up with the traditional Ideal.
I shall therefore still sow some of my own reselected Ideal within the next few days which will be followed by the Lathom and Moonbeam Ideal cross about ten days later.
A lot of growers seem to have difficulty in getting the seed to germinate well. My way is to use as shallow a seed tray as possible so that the heat from the propagator works through the compost a lot faster.
I use Levington F1 as a seed compost but Levington Multi Purpose will do the job equally as well. Some growers have a tendency to over compact the compost when sowing seed which is totally unnecessary, indeed, compacting the compost too much can lead to failure with all the air having been squeezed out of the compost. My method is simple, fill the tray to the rim with compost and then level it off before lifting the tray and tapping it down once on the bench. The surface is then lightly flattened with a small piece of wood and the tray placed inside a dish or seed tray (with no holes in the bottom) which has been filled with some water.
Once the compost has soaked up the water and fully charged, the seed can be broadcast sown on top. Celery seed is the smallest of all the vegetable seed (you get as much as 70,000 seed to the ounce!) and care has to be taken in order to try and sow them apart from each other. It"s no use just dropping the seed on top any old how, they will then germinate in clumps and as they grow they will get leggy and those plants never give you the ideal start. Once the seed has been sown, lightly flatten them into the compost once more and then give the surface and the seed a light spray using a small hand sprayer with a fine mist spray. Don't use a watering can as inevitably you will give such a small area too much water all at once making the seed float and inevitably gather together in a pile in one corner.
I have had superior germination by not covering the seed, merely going over the tray on a daily basis with the same fine mist spray.
Place the tray in a propagator as they do need warmth to germinate evenly and with a little bit of luck the seed should be germinating any time between 12 and 21 days. Celery of course is a bog plant so it's not averse to damp conditions, however it resents any check to growth and care must be taken to ensure that once the seed tray is removed from the propagator that you have proper facilities in which to grow it on at a minimum temperature of 55° F.
The celery is a dicotyledon and therefore the first leaves you seed will be a pair of small smooth leaves (similar to a carrot seedling leaf, being from the same family) which will grow to about half an inch across. When the first proper leaf (or what is often called the rough leaf) is about half an inch tall the young seedlings can be transplanted into small pots or cells. In my case I use plantpak 40's which is 40 units or cells to fit into a standard full size seed tray, seedlings don't like to be potted on immediately into a large pot as they never seem to do well. My father always used to tell me that a baby would never be placed into a double bed straight off!
Make sure that you retain the same temperature throughout and even though the celery is in it's natural habitat a bog plant, don't flood the cells too much, merely keep the compost nicely moist and never dry, after all it's not a water lily! Don't be alarmed if it doesn't take off like a rocket, it's initial growth can be quite slow so be patient as once it's found it's feet it will certainly gallop along then.
During the growing season I shall cover this plant in some depth.